One Early Guest Can Throw You Off Your Game

Two Sundays ago we hosted a costume birthday party for our twins, a Monster Tea.  For the past several years we haven’t hosted the kids’ parties at our home because it is so much work and there are so many other options available that kids enjoy (Pump It Up, skating, gymnastics, fencing, climbing, Scandia, et al). However, after hosting and/or attending lots of kids’ parties at these venues, eventually the kids (not to mention the adults) grow tired of all of them.  It was time to do something different, and since our kids have reached the age when scary costumes are desirable, a Monster tea party seemed perfect.  The kids were able to use their costumes again (Halloween costumes are barely used when they are outgrown), they got to enjoy a tea party (which is a current favorite), and we could invite the whole class plus siblings (since we were less concerned with keeping below a certain number of attendees).

If there is one thing that I can be accused of, it is that I try to do too much.  I can’t keep it simple.  I wanted to make most of the food myself.  I wanted to put out a nice spread for adults so that they could enjoy some visiting time with other parents if they were inclined to stick around.  I wanted to have plenty of activities so that the kids would not be bored (the kiss of death for any party). I’ve thrown quite a few dinner parties, cocktail parties, and birthday parties, both for kids and for adults.  I tend to pride myself in knowing what to do to ensure that guests enjoy the food and company.  Throwing a really good party is a bit of an art; if it is not well-planned, people have to go looking for beverages and food, and if the event is too buttoned-up it is not usually memorable.

That morning I felt that I was pretty prepared.  I did most of my baking the day before (brownies, blondies, and two types of cupcakes), I had done all my shopping, I had organized a menu for each station (kids’ snacks outside, kids’ food for the sit-down tea, kid beverage station, adults’ food table, adult beverage station).  We had a few games pulled together (Who Am I?- with 30 people/places/things to identify; a skeleton scavenger hunt; a memory game called “At My Birthday I Want”).  We figured that some kids might want to play the dance game on the XBox upstairs, and we always have the soft swords to fight with outside.  If the party slowed down toward the end, we would make a bonfire (I bought makings for s’mores and several boxes of hot chocolate mix, just in case).

Manly Guy and I joked that *someone* would forget to change their clocks and arrive an hour early.

My family has the sense to know to avoid me in the last hour before an event.  My husband always reminds the kids to “leave Mommy alone” right before a party.  I am a raving b!&@h.  There is always a lot left to do (no matter how well-planned I think it has been), and I am very focused, not taking the time or energy for niceties.  In the last hour before the Monster Tea, I needed to finish making the tea cakes, make tea sandwiches, set up both beverage stations, put out the games and set up the bubble station.  Yes, it was going to be a busy hour, but I felt that I could get everything done as long as I stayed on task.  Then, a few minutes before 3 PM, the doorbell rings.  Really?!  More than an hour before our start time of 4 PM?  We opened the door, and there was a classmate of the twins’ with his mom.  We looked at the mom, very surprised, and said something about not changing her clocks.  She looked back at us, also very surprised.  She showed us the Evite on her phone that somehow shows a start time of 3 PM.  I run upstairs and check my computer, which definitely shows a start-time of 4.  We panic a bit, hoping that we only have one early arrival.  (Thankfully, she was the only one.)

The Mom offered to help at least, so I gave her the task of making tea sandwiches while I finished making the tea cakes.  I knew that she was trying to be helpful, but having a guest early really messed up my mindset.  I couldn’t focus on what I needed to do, as I needed to be friendly and keep her busy with stuff so that she felt useful.  I lost my momentum, forgot to set up the beverage stations, and felt utterly behind as guests started to arrive in earnest at 4.  To top off my feeling of not having my act together, we were totally swamped with kids.  Our Evite gave an estimate of 17 guests, including adults.  I knew that not everyone had responded, and assumed that we would have between 20 and 25 kids, along with a handful of adults.  In the first half-hour of the party it was clear that the 24 gift bags that I had assembled was not going to be enough (thank goodness I had additional stuff upstairs to make more).  I struggled to greet everyone, get the drink stations set-up, let go of the idea of having games, and just try to ride the wave of chaos that took over the house and the yard.   In the end, I served a sit-down tea in the backyard for about 30 kids (not all would fit at the tables), hosted at least ten adults for a wine and cheese gathering in the living room, tried to keep the kids from doing anything too crazy in the yard (much sword-fighting went on), ensured that the kids upstairs were taking turns with the XBox dance game, and gave away 34 gift bags to kids that weren’t mine.

From the feedback that I got as people were leaving, everyone had a great time.  The twins loved their birthday party.  Clean-up the next day went faster than I expected, and within twenty-four hours the house was good as new.  But I still chuckle when I think of The Mom (who arrived early) when she was leaving: “Good thing I arrived early, isn’t it?”

Do We Really Need Poison Oak on This Planet?

Wow!  I had no idea how unpleasant an encounter with poison oak could be.

Two of our kids (our son and one of the twins) somehow contracted poison oak from a local park where our son attended a summer camp.  We had never dealt with poison oak before, so it took us more than a week to even recognize it, let alone treat it.  Poor T and S– they are still healing, a month later!  We read information online, of course, and from everything we could find it seemed that they should recover on their own in a few days with regular applications of calamine lotion, but it continued to fester with both of them.  After two weeks of suffering we finally took them to the doctor for prescriptions of steroids and antibiotics (to prevent infection).  Sheets had been changed, but I washed all bedding (including stuffed animals) to ensure that they weren’t getting new exposure.  We washed all the laundry in hot water for the past several weeks (and will continue that for a while yet) to make sure we get all of the poison oak oil out of all clothing.  Since we don’t know exactly when the exposure happened, we don’t know what they were wearing.

While they generally all played together at the park at pick-up time, it is interesting that only two of the kids were exposed.  Of course, I’m grateful for that, but it makes it harder to know how to prevent future exposure.   We got back from a camping trip last week, and there was a lot of poison oak throughout the campsite.  We were there with a good friend who recognized it easily (and there was a large sign at the entrance of the campground, warning campers about it); she pointed out where it was to all the kids and explained to them that they mustn’t touch it or even brush up against it.  The fact that you can get it on your clothing, and then inadvertently touch it and spread it to various parts of your body makes it so insidious.

Of course, with four kids in a campground with lots of poison oak I expected that we would face it again– and I was right, unfortunately.  Somehow V must have brushed up against some on the last day.  As soon as we got back from camping I had them strip off their clothes as they went into the guest house and go right to the shower, using special soap for poison oak.  We washed all the clothes from the trip in hot water.  Even still, poison oak appeared on V’s leg a day later, and has since spread.  Either she somehow got the oil on something in the house (God knows what)  or it is spreading from her sores, but we keep finding new itchy spots.  So awful!  I hate it, I hate it, I hate it . . . Why does this stuff need to even exist?  Can’t we somehow rid the planet (or at least popular parks) of this nasty plant?  And while we are at it, how about also getting rid of mosquitoes?

Summer Burnout

This is our last week of summer camp, then a few days’ camping trip and we are done with summer!  The kids start school in a week and I can hardly wait to have them back in their normal routine.

We took two family trips in May, so we ended up not doing any traveling this summer. Instead, I booked the kids very heavily with a variety of summer camps.  Manly Guy works on our property (his office is in the guest house), and while summer camps can be pretty expensive, they are *not* as expensive as a husband who is unable to get his work done.  The end result is that I have spent the last ten weeks with a different schedule every Monday, with as many as four different drop-offs/pick-ups each day, rushing to prepare breakfast and pack lunches each morning and trying to ensure that everyone had everything that they needed for the day.  (“S– are your soccer shoes in your backpack?” “T– did you refill your water bottle?” “V– be sure to bring home your hoodie!”)

Since late May there have been swim lessons, Science camp, preschool summer school for our littlest, YMCA camp, older kids’ camp, sleep-away camp, gymnastics camp, Lego animation camp, camps at the Sonoma State University (our son was taking classes, the girls in a camp of summer activities), French camp, art camp and soccer camp.  We hosted our son’s best friend for a week.  We have had quite a few friends visit us, many staying in the guest house.  Keeping it all straight has been challenging, and mornings in particular have been rather frantic at times.  While school brings its own set of demands, at least we will get into a familiar routine and be in it for a while, which is sounding quite nice!

How Many Personas Do You Have?

The most interesting men and women I know have multiple personas that they draw from in their interactions with the world at large.  It’s like wearing a costume, except that these are exaggerated personality traits turned into a simplified version of the person.  I have witnessed my dear friend Victoria in a few different personas: Sweet Southern Gal, Proper English Wife, Bitch-on-Wheels American (quite handy for business meetings).  I’m sure that she has several more in her arsenal.  She has joked about which persona would be the best for a particular occasion, and I love the fact that she can put them on and take them off quite easily.

Over the years I have developed Scotch-drinking Demure Wench (from my dancing days at the Renaissance Faire, which I did for several seasons), Colonial Raver Marine (during my party and Burning Man days), Educated/Well-traveled Career Girl, Outdoorsy Adventurer (I dabbled with quite a few pursuits, including hiking, rock climbing, mountaineering, scuba diving, mountain biking, snowboarding).  Since getting married and having a family I added Domestic Goddess (culinary and craft projects), Perky Mother of Four (school stuff), and Trophy Wife (for cultural events such as symphony and opera performances).  None of these personas represent the “real” me, but all of them together make up a big part of me.  Humans are complicated creatures, and we usually interact with a wide array of other individuals.  Most people out there aren’t interested in knowing me *that* well, except for a handful of close friends and a few family members.  These personas provide a shortcut to me and my acquaintances to interact easily without a lot of fuss.

Apparently not everyone is happy that society uses archetypes.  Last week I read an article written by a twenty-something woman, bemoaning the fact that men view women in a superficial way, relying on archetypical characters as a viewing lens.  The author’s first main point was that men grow up to star in their own story, and women grow up to be a supporting role.   She used the descriptor “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” as an example of a current archetypical character in books and movies that portray women in an unrealistic way. While I can see her perspective, the article (which was a bit of a feminist diatribe) got me thinking more about how my views about interaction between men and women have changed as I have gotten older, rather than the injustice that women are subjected to by society at large.  I have a vague recollection of being annoyed in my twenties whenever people treated me impersonally, but now I appreciate that there is no way everyone that I meet can know and appreciate me as an individual.

Archetypes have existed for millennia, and for good reason.  We carry stories with us throughout our lives, and they tend to be populated with characters we learn to love or hate, but we know them well.  Since they are out there anyway, why not use them as tools?

Kids Have No Idea of the Effort Involved in Doing Stuff

I remember when I was single, or even when it was just Manly Guy and me, how easy it was to do stuff.  Walk out the door with a purse (or, for a guy, wallet and phone) and you’re good.  Even when planning a trip, you packed your bag in a few minutes and you were off.  (When we were leaving for our honeymoon, we had not packed anything when our ride arrived to take us to the airport, and we left 1/2 hour later . . . )

Having children changes nearly every aspect of your life, but it is particularly striking to me how much harder it is to do stuff when you have kids in tow.  As an adult, you just have to make sure that you are clean and dressed, maybe there is some fussing (make-up, hair, etc), but you just have to worry about You.   When you add children to the mix, you not only have to account for them being clean and dressed, but you must be concerned with the last time they ate, if they have recently gone to the bathroom, carrying extra clothing, bringing along snacks and water, and a myriad other details.

Then there is traveling with kids, which ups the ante significantly.  You must have everything you *might* need, all clothing, toiletries, entertainment, maybe a bucket if you have kids who get carsick easily . . .

A week ago on Monday we got back from a four-day/three night trip to Tahoe.  Overall, it was great: kids loved visiting the snow, we got everyone on the slopes one day (kids on skis, hubby and I on snowboards), we had a nice visit with our friends with whom we shared the condo, and I even had a spa day, always a big bonus.

It took only two days to hear one of the kids say: Can we do that again soon?

I know I should be glad that it was such a great experience that they want to repeat it, but my initial response was “Do you have any idea how expensive that was?  How much work?”

Kids really have *no* appreciation of what it takes to pull off a trip.  When things go smoothly, they just assume that details magically work themselves out instead of realizing that their mother has a minor case of OCD.  I start planning months in advance, and try to think of as many details as possible.  The reason why we had never all been to Tahoe before was because of the effort and cost required to pull off a trip for a family of six.  For a decade I was either pregnant, breastfeeding, or had a toddler (or a combination).  Snow sports trips are expensive, and I wasn’t willing to go to the mountains and babysit.  On this trip I did see some families with babies- Hats off to ’em!- but it just seemed like too much work for not enough payoff.

Since our youngest is four and could definitely go to ski school, we decided this was the year to try it.  The kids had been asking to visit the snow for months, and I felt like we couldn’t put it off anymore.  It was late in the season when I booked the condo, so when I started visiting stores to buy the necessary winter apparel I found little available.  After visiting several stores, I ended up ordering snow bibs online, and finding gloves, boots and other warm things in a variety of places.  It took about two weeks to assemble enough winter clothing for us all to be comfortable in the snow.

Our day on the slopes was a success, much to my relief!  All three girls enjoyed ski school, our son did well on skis by the end of the day (despite a very rough start in the morning), and Manly Guy and I managed to remain injury-free, even though neither of us had been on a snowboard for many years.

Manly Guy took all the kids sledding the next day, freeing me and our friend up for the day, so we hit the spa.  It was really great to get some time with a girlfriend to hang out, read a book, get pampered, enjoy some lunch, have a cocktail afterward. Never mind that the kids got really sunburned on their faces– they had so much fun in the snow!

So while the trip went really well, and I’d like to see us make it an annual event, I am not willing to commit to going more than once per year.  Maybe when the kids are teenagers I could see going more frequently, but not now.  It is a big job to get all the gear together, organize everything and everyone, book the condo, hope that it isn’t snowing when we need to drive up or down the mountain, plan meals, try to keep everyone healthy before the trip (we had a kid with the flu at the beginning of the trip and went home with another kid just coming down with the same bug).

Now to get back to planning our Disneyland trip in May . . .






Our Plum Tree is Exploding with Blossoms

Well, that didn’t take long.

Last week there were four little buds, hinting that spring would soon arrive.  I assumed that it would be at least a couple of weeks before the blossoms peaked, but I think we hit that point yesterday.  The tree absolutely exploded with little white flowers.  Between the bees buzzing in the branches, and the birds chirping nearby, it not only looks like spring, it sounds like spring.

As Manley Guy put it, “I love this tree.  (It is) one of the things for which I am thankful.”

We inherited the tree– it came with the house– which is amazing, as the garden was utterly neglected and unkempt when we bought it through a short sale in 2009.  We planted other fruit trees less than a year ago, but we don’t expect them to bear fruit for several years, so the plum tree is the star of our otherwise fairly plain garden.

Here is what it looked like yesterday:


First Signs of Spring


Our plum tree is quietly announcing that spring will soon be here.

The tree is still mostly bare– I only counted four blossoms yesterday.  But I suspect that by the end of February our backyard plum tree will be covered in blossoms.  Two years ago that happened, and a hail storm a week later wiped them all out, leaving us plum-less for the year.  (I think there were two tiny plums on the tree in June that year.)  Last year the tree blossomed in late February/early March and we were blessed with a wonderful harvest.  I made many jars of plum jelly, which is perfect for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

But no use counting my plums before they are fruit!  The weather has been ridiculously lovely today– I think we hit the low 70’s this afternoon.  Which is pretty crazy for February.  When I posted on Facebook about our weather, friends on the East Coast (and other colder climes) teased me for our perennial lovely climate.  Manly Guy and I have decided that California *does* have four seasons, just not the traditional ones.  Ours are Nice, Perfect, Warm and Cool.